The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that are typically translated as “priest” in English (itself deriving from Latin “presbyter” — “elder”) is often translated with a consideration of existing religious traditions. (Click or tap for details)

Bratcher / Nida (1961) say this:

“However, rather than borrow local names for priests, some of which have unwanted connotations, a number of translations have employed descriptive phrases based on certain functions: (1) those describing a ceremonial activity: Pamona uses tadu, the priestess who recites the litanies in which she describes her journey to the upper or under-world to fetch life-spirit for sick people, animals or plants; Batak Toba uses the Arabic malim, ‘Muslim religious teacher;’ ‘one who presents man’s sacrifice to God’ (Bambara, Eastern Maninkakan), ‘one who presents sacrifices’ (Baoulé, Navajo), ‘one who takes the name of the sacrifice’ (Kpelle, and ‘to make a sacrifice go out’ (Hausa); (2) those describing an intermediary function: ‘one who speaks to God’ (Shipibo-Conibo) and ‘spokesman of the people before God’ (Tabasco Chontal).”

In Obolo it is translated as ogwu ngwugwa or “the one who offers sacrifice” (source: Enene Enene), in Mairasi as agam aevar nevwerai: “religious leader” (source: Enggavoter 2004), in Ignaciano as “blesser, one who does ritual as a practice” (using a generic term rather than the otherwise common Spanish loan word sacerdote) (source: Willis Ott in Notes on Translation 88/1982, p. 18ff.), and in Noongar as yakin-kooranyi or “holy worker” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang).

For Guhu-Samane, Ernest Richert (in The Bible Translator, 1965, p. 81ff. ) reports this:

“The [local] cult of Poro used to be an all-encompassing religious system that essentially governed all areas of life. (…) For ‘priest’ the term ‘poro father’ would at first seem to be a natural choice. However, several priests of the old cult are still living. Although they no longer function primarily as priests of the old system they still have a substantial influence on the community, and there would be more than a chance that the unqualified term would (in some contexts particularly) be equated with the priest of the poro cult. We learned, then, that the poro fathers would sometimes be called ‘knife men’ in relation to their sacrificial work. The panel was pleased to apply this term to the Jewish priest, and the Christian community has adopted it fully. [Mark 1:44, for instance, now] reads: ‘You must definitely not tell any man of this. But you go show your body to the knife man and do what Moses said about a sacrifice concerning your being healed, and the cause (base of this) will be apparent.'”

For a revision of the 1968 version of the Bible in Khmer Joseph Hong (in: The Bible Translator 1996, 233ff. ) talks about a change in wording for this term:

​​Bau cha r (បូជា‌ចារ្យ) — The use of this new construction meaning “priest” is maintained to translate the Greek word hiereus. The term “mean sang (មាន សង្ឃ)” used in the old version actually means a “Buddhist monk,” and is felt to be theologically misleading. The Khmer considers the Buddhist monk as a “paddy field of merits,” a reserve of merits to be shared with other people. So a Khmer reader would find unthinkable that the mean sang in the Bible killed animals, the gravest sin for a Buddhist; and what a scandal it would be to say that a mean sang was married, had children, and drank wine.


The Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin that is transliterated “Levites” in English (only the Contemporary English Version translates it as “temple helpers”) is translated in Ojitlán Chinantec as “temple caretakers,” Yatzachi Zapotec as “people born in the family line of Levi, people whose responsibility it was to do the work in the important church of the Israelites,” in Alekano as “servants in the sacrifice house from Jerusalem place,” and in Tenango Otomi as “helpers of priests.” (Source: M. Larson / B. Moore in Notes on Translation February 1970, p. 1-125.)

In American Sign Language with a sign that combines “temple” + “servant.” (Source: RuthAnna Spooner, Ron Lawer)

“Levite” in American Sign Language, source: Deaf Harbor

For the sign in Spanish Sign Language, see Levi.

More information about Levites .


The name that is transliterated as “Jerusalem” in English is signed in French Sign Language with a sign that depicts worshiping at the Western Wall in Jerusalem:

“Jerusalem” in French Sign Language (source: La Bible en langue des signes française )

While a similar sign is also used in British Sign Language, another, more neutral sign that combines the sign “J” and the signs for “place” is used as well. (Source: Anna Smith)

“Jerusalem” in British Sign Language (source: Christian BSL, used with permission)

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Jerusalem .


The name that is transliterated as “Moses” in English is signed in Spanish Sign Language and Polish Sign Language in accordance with the depiction of Moses in the famous statue by Michelangelo (see here ). (Source: John Elwode in The Bible Translator 2008, p. 78ff. )

“Moses” in Spanish Sign Language, source: Sociedad Bíblica de España

American Sign Language also uses the sign depicting the horns but also has a number of alternative signs (see here).

In French Sign Language, a similar sign is used, but it is interpreted as “radiance” (see below) and it culminates in a sign for “10,” signifying the 10 commandments:

“Moses” in French Sign Language (source )

The horns that are visible in Michelangelo’s statue are based on a passage in the Latin Vulgate translation (and many Catholic Bible translations that were translated through the 1950ies with that version as the source text). Jerome, the translator, had worked from a Hebrew text without the niqquds, the diacritical marks that signify the vowels in Hebrew and had interpreted the term קרו (k-r-n) in Exodus 34:29 as קֶ֫רֶן — keren “horned,” rather than קָרַו — karan “radiance” (describing the radiance of Moses’ head as he descends from Mount Sinai).

Even at the time of his translation, Jerome likely was not the only one making that decision as this article alludes to.

In Swiss-German Sign Language it is translated with a sign depicting holding a staff. This refers to a number of times where Moses’s staff is used in the context of miracles, including the parting of the sea (see Exodus 14:16), striking of the rock for water (see Exodus 17:5 and following), or the battle with Amalek (see Exodus 17:9 and following).

“Moses” in Swiss-German Sign Language, source: DSGS-Lexikon biblischer Begriffe , © CGG Schweiz

In Vietnamese (Hanoi) Sign Language it is translated with the sign that depicts the eye make up he would have worn as the adopted son of an Egyptian princess. (Source: The Vietnamese Sign Language translation team, VSLBT)

“Moses” in Vietnamese Sign Language, source: SooSL

In Estonian Sign Language Moses is depicted with a big beard. (Source: Liina Paales in Folklore 47, 2011, p. 43ff. )

See also Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration.

Learn more on Bible Odyssey: Moses .

Translation commentary on Ezra 6:18

They set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their courses: The priests and Levites were organized into divisions and courses for different types of responsibilities in the time of David (1 Chr 23–26). These divisions/courses are not mentioned in the Pentateuch, but the general responsibilities for the priests and Levites are given there (Exo 29; Lev 8; Num 3–4; 8). They are being organized in divisions here in preparation for their responsibilities in the upcoming Passover ritual (see 2 Chr 35.1-6).

Divisions and courses are used here with no difference in meaning. Many translations, however, try to express the two terms with a pair of roughly synonymous words, such as “groups” and “divisions” (New English Bible), “classes” and “divisions” (Traduction œcuménique de la Bible), or “categories” and “classes” (Bible de Jérusalem). Good News Translation omits the two words and expresses the concept as organizing the priests and Levites for the duties that they will perform. Bible en français courant translates “They also divided the priests and the Levites into groups, according to their respective duties,” and this will be a useful model for many translators.

For the service of God at Jerusalem: This phrase is problematic because it is ambiguous. The reader cannot be sure whether it is the service that is to take place at Jerusalem or it is God who is located there. The Aramaic text has for the service of God while one Greek manuscript and the Syriac translation have “for the service of the house of God” (so Bible de Jérusalem, New Jerusalem Bible). It appears that “house of” has been added on the grounds that the prepositional phrase at Jerusalem cannot be describing the location of God. The similar text in 2 Chr 35.2 also includes the words “house of.” This is probably the intent of the original text. Good News Translation simplifies here by omitting the explicit reference to God and restructures to make its interpretation clear, namely, that the reference is to “the Temple services in Jerusalem.” Contemporary English Version says “their duties in God’s Temple in Jerusalem.” Most versions translate the Aramaic literally and retain the ambiguity, for example, “for the service of God in Jerusalem” (Revised English Bible; similarly Segond, New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh, Osty-Trinquet, Traduction œcuménique de la Bible). Other versions, however, take the other interpretation of God located in Jerusalem. Bible en français courant says “in the service of the God of Jerusalem,” while Chouraqui translates “in the service of Elohim who is at Jerusalem.” This Handbook recommends the interpretation of service to God in Jerusalem, that is, service in the Temple in Jerusalem. The other interpretation may be given in a footnote.

As it is written: See the comments at Ezra 3.4.

The book of Moses: This refers to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures that are commonly referred to as the Torah, the Law, and the book of the Law. Here they are referred to collectively in the singular as the book of Moses (see also 2 Chr 25.4). The translator should be careful in translating the preposition of not to imply that the book was possessed by Moses, but that it was attributed to him.

This is the end of the Aramaic section that began at Ezra 4.8. Translators should draw the attention of the reader to this fact by a footnote, unless this was stated already in a footnote where the Aramaic section began.

Quoted with permission from Noss, Philip A. and Thomas, Kenneth J. A Handbook on Ezra. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2005. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .